A recent article in the Tennessee Law Review (subscription required) highlights the work done by the ACLU Capital Punishment Project in their representation of Richard Taylor, a severely mentally illness death-row inmate in Tennessee. The article, “Effective Capital Defense Representation And The Difficult Client,” was written by Bradley McClean, who once represented Taylor. McClean writes:
Kelly Gleason, an experienced and dedicated capital defense attorney, took over the direct appeal from [Taylor’s] second trial.She recruited Cassandra Stubbs and John Holdridge from the Capital Punishment Project of the ACLU to serve as lead counsel in the appeal. These attorneys did what Richard’s prior trial counsel failed to do-they invested the time and effort necessary to establish a relationship with Richard. In his impaired way, Richard eventually developed some trust in his new attorneys. In 2008, they persuaded the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse Richard’s convictionand then, with Richard’s cooperation, negotiated a plea agreement for a life sentence. After 27 years and untold expense, Richard is finally off death row and being treated for his schizophrenia.
Poor relationships between Richard and his trial counsel contributed significantly to the bad results in both of his trials. These attorney-client relationships were poor not only because Richard was a “difficult client,” but also because his trial attorneys were under-resourced and ill-equipped to handle this kind of case.On the other hand, Richard’s post-conviction and appellate attorneys achieved successful results because they invested the time and effort necessary to develop a meaningful relationship with him.
Lawyering is more than trial skills or brilliant brief writing. Attorneys are also called Counselors at Law. Without compassion there can be no good counsel. Richard Taylor is still alive because of the mutual respect he had for his lawyers and because of their respect for him.